On Dec. 23, President Carmen Twillie Ambar announced the cancellation of College-sponsored Winter Term projects with group air or road trips greater than four hours. International travel for individual Winter Term projects will only be permitted if the student is a citizen, permanent resident, or national of the country they are visiting. The decision comes amid a global resurgence in COVID-19 cases and will impact 151 students.
The International Risk Committee and the Office of Winter Term have been assessing the safety of Winter Term trips throughout the past few months. Many trips were canceled individually prior to the Dec. 23 announcement. On Dec. 13, the International Risk Committee and Office of Winter Term began privately notifying affected students, faculty, and sponsors that their projects were deemed unsafe to continue. Although they initially judged that three off-campus group projects were safe to continue, those projects were eventually canceled by the College in their announcement on Dec. 23.
Although the original deadline to register for Winter Term was Nov. 19, Associate Dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences and member of the International Risk Committee Elizabeth Hamilton stated that the College is allowing students whose plans have been changed the chance to reapply for other Winter Term activities.
“Students are invited to join one of the on-campus group projects that still have room,” wrote Hamilton. “Students are also invited to apply for on-campus and off-campus individual projects. Guidelines and toolkits for developing projects are available from the Winter Term office.”
According to Director of Winter Term and Global Learning Deanna Bergdorf, the emergence of the Omicron variant in late November spurred a secondary review process culminating in the Dec. 23 decision.
“While this process began earlier in the year, the COVID surge following the World Health Organization’s designation of Omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 26, 2021 prompted an additional review process that took place from late November through mid-December,” wrote Bergdorf in an email to the Review.
The College’s decision to cancel Winter Term travel also extended to the Conservatory, which had collaborative performance trips planned in Uruguay, New York City, and San Francisco.
“We had multiple international and even domestic trips we had to cancel,” said Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen. “One example, the Sonny Rollins jazz ensemble, was supposed to perform in SFJAZZ in a trip to San Francisco.”
The abrupt nature of the notification on Dec. 13 left some project leaders racing to adjust to a new reality. They had spent months recruiting students, coordinating with sponsors, and preparing itineraries for their project.
“I felt like I got the rug pulled from right under me,” said College fourth-year Havi Carrillo-Klein, a student organizer of the Bridging the Gap trip to Israel and Palestine. “It was completely devastating and heartbreaking. It would’ve been nice to get a heads up [like], ‘This is the committee assessing the coronavirus and these are the scenarios in which we would cancel your trip.’ We didn’t get any communication like that.”
In Carrillo-Klein’s case, her Winter Term project’s leadership team was notified just hours before student participants, which created frustrating logistical issues. Many student participants were told their projects would not be approved despite hearing no word from the project organizers.
“I actually got an email from the Winter Term office I think only two hours before [the other students] did,” Carrillo-Klein said. “I was trying to put together communication to the students to have something that gave backup options or next steps. What are we gonna do from here? How could we reassess now that this has come in and happened? We specifically asked, ‘Can you please give us an extra 24 hours to get our bearings and make sure that students aren’t stranded?’ It felt like we had completely lost control of the project, which was sad and frustrating.”
For students that planned to participate in Winter Term activities involving professional networking, such as the Ashby Business Scholars program, the College’s decision has caused some to feel discouraged by the lost opportunities. The program was canceled last year due to COVID-19, and this year, the program will be exclusively on Zoom.
“We were supposed to travel to Cleveland and New York and Boston to network and meet people in person,” said College third-year Andreea Procopan. “I think for me at this point, since I’m a junior, it’s kind of late to be doing this thing. Usually people do the program in their second year because it gives you a foot ahead on those internships. Then COVID happened and they didn’t do the program, and this was the first year they restarted it.”
Procopan emphasized that she wasn’t disappointed, just sad. She recognized the work the Career Development Center had done in accommodating the College’s decision, but she acknowledged that much is lost when in-person programs are switched to virtual.
“I wouldn’t say it was disappointing because the Career Center is trying to give us the best alternative possible,” said Procopan. “It was sad though because meeting people in person makes it much easier to network and establish connections.”
While acknowledging the loss that many students experienced as a result of these cancellations, Bergdorf highlighted an opportunity for students to both take care of themselves and receive the necessary Winter Term credits.
“I am thrilled to share that I will be leading a group project called Self-Care Bootcamp that will be accessible for students both in-person and remotely,” Bergdorf wrote. “Anyone who has not yet registered for a project and would like to spend Winter Term 2022 engaged in an immersive self-care experience is encouraged to join us by registering on the Winter Term application site.”